Before we dive into the different types of added sugars, it’s important to know that our bodies need sugar to function. When we eat sugar, our bodies break it down into its simplest form, called glucose, in order to provide us with energy. Glucose is our bodies most preferred way to feed our brain, muscles and organs. Consumed in the right amounts, it gives us sustained energy and revs our metabolism (hello, fat burning!).
The problem: too much glucose leads to fat storage and weight gain. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a maximum of 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day (about 100 calories) for women and 9 teaspoons (about 150 calories) per day for men. Recent reports have shown Americans consume 10x this amount on a daily basis! Since our bodies only need a small amount of glucose for energy production, extra glucose we consume gets stored in our cells for later use. Due to added sugars lurking almost everywhere in processed foods, most of us consume far more glucose than we need leading to plenty of stored “energy” that we don’t end up using. The result: weight gain and fat storage.
What’s the Difference between Naturally Occurring Sugars and Added Sugars?
There are two types of sugars. Natural sugars are sugars that occur naturally in foods such as fresh fruit, vegetables, and milk products. Added sugars include any sweetener or sugar that is added to a food to enhance its sweetness. The WHO’s recommendations are based on the consumption of added sugars which are commonly found in the processed foods that make up a large portion of the typical American diet.
How Do I Spot Added Sugars?
Did you know that one can of soda contains 10 teaspoons of added sugar? And just 1 tablespoon of ketchup has 1 teaspoon of added sugar! I don’t know about you, but when I use ketchup I certainly use more than 1 tablespoon.
The best way to spot added sugars is to start reading the ingredients on food labels. It’s not enough to rely on the grams of sugar per serving on the food’s nutrition label since this number includes naturally occurring sugars and added sugars. A good rule of thumb is to limit foods that have a large amount of added sugar including foods that list sugar as one of the first ingredients. Here’s a guide to the most common added sugars you may find on an ingredient list:
- Ingredients ending in –ose: sucrose, maltose, dextrose, lactose, fructose, glucose, galactose, levulose, isoglucose
- Juice, Syrups, Nectars: cane juice, evaporated cane juice, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup solids, maple syrup, honey, agave nectar, malt syrup, fruit juice, fruit juice concentrate, dehydrated fruit juice, molasses, fruit nectar, caramel
- Sugar: white sugar, brown sugar, date sugar, coconut sugar, powdered sugar, confectioner’s sugar, raw sugar, malt sugar
Can you spot the added sugars in these common ingredient lists?
Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread
Ingredients: Enriched bleached flour (wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), Sugar, Margarine [palm oil, water, salt, mono- and diglycerides, soy lecithin, sodium benzoate (preservative), artificial flavor, beta-carotene (color), vitamin A palmitate], water, high fructose corn syrup, vegetable oil, eggs. Contains 2% of less of each of the following: brown sugar, cinnamon, corn syrup, yeast, dextrin, salt, modified corn starch, gums (carob bean, xanthan, cellulose), natural flavor, enzyme, soy flour.
Ingredients: Tomato ketchup (red ripe tomatoes, distilled vinegar, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, salt, onion powder, spice, natural flavoring),brown sugar, distilled vinegar, Worcestershire sauce (distilled vinegar, molasses, corn syrup, water, salt, caramel, garlic powder, sugar, spices, tamarind, natural flavor), salt.
Ingredients: Protein Blend (Soy Protein Isolate, Calcium Caseinate, Whey Protein Isolate), Maltitol Syrup, Coating (Sugar, Palm Kernel Oil, Whey, Nonfat Milk, Cultured Whey, Soy Lecithin, Natural Flavor), Oligofructose, Fructose, Nonfat Milk, Cane Invert Syrup, Water, High Oleic Canola Oil, and Less Than 2% of: Soy Lecithin, Ground Almonds, Partially Defatted Peanut Flour, Natural Flavor.
Ingredients: Whole Grain Wheat Flour, Soybean Oil, Sugar, Cornstarch, Malt Syrup, Salt, Invert Sugar, Leavening (Calcium Phosphate And/Or Baking Soda), Vegetable Color (Annatto Extract, Turmeric Oleoresin)
Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread: sugar, high fructose corn syrup, brown sugar, corn syrup
BBQ Sauce: high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, brown sugar, molasses, corn syrup, caramel, sugar
Protein Bar: maltitol syrup, sugar, oligofructose, fructose, cane invert syrup
Wheat Crackers: sugar, malt syrup, sugar